Buffalo has been slapped right on the map of rap’s biggest cities this year, with critically-acclaimed releases from Griselda rappers Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, Armani Caesar, and Conway the Machine. But an engine of hype and energy powers the city: Billie Essco.
And he’s doing it all on his own terms, opting to buck the industry norm of joining a major record label. While Griselda signed to Eminem’s Shady Records, Essco has continued to work on his own label, Cafe Recordings, putting out grimy album after grimy album, repping Buffalo’s cold streets and hot fashion scene.
Signature to Billie Essco’s bars are his lines about trapping in four feet of snow, and rocking 40-inch Timbs while he’s at it. He’s braggadocious and confident, only adding to his social awareness; his raps are chock-full of disses and deconstructions of racist policy and racist policymakers.
His latest album, Esscargot, immediately drew me in with his cover art; it features a proud-looking Essco with a blue-sky background, invoking imagery of Drake’s Nothing Was the Same. But a closer look reveals a couple screenshots of Google Maps, likely representing his house and city. He’s clearly dedicated to reppin’ his roots, and it makes for one of my favorite album covers this year.
Esscargot sees Essco at his most confident, asserting on “Nebraska” that he’s the “illest n***ga in Nebraska.” His swag can hardly be contained by state boundaries, and that’s evident throughout the album.
A fantastic feature from CJ Fly on the smooth “Peyton & Marvin” paints the Billie Essco-CJ Fly duo as a new-era Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, a large statement considering that the Colts duo is the best QB-WR combination in NFL history. But the welcome overconfidence fits right in with what we’ve heard from Buffalo this year, only adding to the understanding that you gotta have a tough mentality to make it out of the snow.
But the music only paints one side of Billie Essco’s vibrant personality. He’s also the head of creative space/streetwear brand CAFE+CZEN. Per their website, Café refers to “An online conceptual space curated to explore taste,” and Czen is “A contemporary menswear brand specializing in repurposing garments and consciously progressive graphic design.” I’m confused, but that doesn’t mean I’m not very interested.
Café’s website has five parts: Lounge, Hotel, Gallery, Theater, and Gift Shop. The tabs range from portraits to the Runaway movie. It’s unexpected, but good for encouraging creativity.
Czen is more exciting, with fresh drops from the menswear brand. Their style boasts Buffalo, with cold-weather gear, blocky letters, and pastel colorways. Their most recent drop is heavily influenced by rugby uniforms, a welcomed stylistic choice. Check out a spotlight of Essco under his the name Uptown Chase:
Essco talks in the video about trying to make clothes that are “real, trailer park-ish, real middle America.” The spotlight is from 2016, but shows him in a genuine light, showing his care for the art he makes and how much it means to him. That’s the feeling I get from his albums as well — his art is a genuine reflection of his creative personality.
Fans of Griselda will find themselves quickly falling in love with Essco’s discography. He sports many of the same strong instrumentals, but with a more accessible flow that delivers heated punchlines and gritty bars about growing up in the snow and reaching for a high level of social discourse. And with a successful streetwear brand to boot, there’s no telling what his ceiling is as a creator.
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